It’d be hard to overstate just how likeable Netflix’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” movies are. Cute cast, realistic (if affluent) situations, upbeat messaging and first love-affirming, precisely what a teen rom com should be.
And if Netflix wants to wring the life out of the “franchise,” even that doesn’t ding that likability. The third film in the “trilogy,” “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” is just as likable, manages a couple of lump in the throat moments and a candy-colored view of high school, senior class trip (to NYC), spring break with family (to Seoul), prom, a wedding and graduation.
But as pretty as this is and as cheerful as everybody in it can be, this is seriously dull stuff. I mean, watching prom backdrop paint dry dull. The stakes are low, the conflict is realistically banal and all the edges are rubbed off one and all, as if they had any to start with.
I’m all for a teen romance that isn’t all sex, beer pong and rock’n roll or hip hop. Young kids especially could stand slow-your-roll, grow-up-gradually messaging. But 16-and-up? These play like movies your parents want you to see. And we all know what that means.
Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) have known each other forever, and “found” each two movies ago. Now it’s senior year, and it’s go-big-or-go-home time.
He’s got a lacrosse scholarship to Stanford. Will the aspiring English Lit major be able to join him there? LA sweats that, big time.
No, she won’t. That’s fine. Plan B, she goes to a great school close by and maybe transfers. Peter rolls with her “Berkeley” news and other changes to the “dream” — in which LJ fantasizes about their entire futures together, at least through that house with the picket fence.
“We’re gonna get through this” is played with the gravitas of a cancer diagnosis.
But as is the way of such screen romances, the “drift apart” is just beginning. Will they make it? Will they make it through prom? Will they “make it” prom night?
Breathless fans rightly want answers.
The dialogue is blandly adorable, with but a single swear word in 110 minutes of screen time.
The lovers “burn low and slow…we’re like brisket.” Sadly, the same could be said of the movie.
With every sparkly trip to the bowling alley, every romantic trip to the “Lock Tower” (lovers leave locks) in Seoul, every “promposal” leading up to prom, “Always and Forever” just seems to take always and forever to get on with it.
Peter’s estranged dad (Henry Thompson), LJ’s remarrying dad (John Corbett), a high school feud that turns nice, the contents here have the taste and “safe” quality of baby food.
Love the characters, love the colorful, artificial, overdressed (“Cute shoes” is a running gag line.)”Grease!” color palette and “High School Musical” production design.
But there’s more to life than “To limo, or not to limo?” And pandemic escape or not, there should be a lot more to a movie high school romance than this.
“Always and Forever” is still likable, still cute, but utterly out of ideas.
MPA Rating: PG
Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Madeleine Arthur, Henry Thomas and John Corbett
Credits: Directed by Michael Fimognari, script by Katie Lovejoy based on the Jenny Han novel. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:49